Who voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? How has the party’s support base changed in the last five years? The magnitude of the BJP’s 2019 victory clearly indicates that it has consolidated gains made in 2014 and further expanded support beyond its traditional base. When a party wins an election with an increased vote share (the BJP’s vote share in 2019, increased from 31.1% to 37.4%), it usually gains votes across the board. Yet, an analysis of the National Election Studies 2019, a post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies immediately after polling in each phase of the election, reveals that the BJP made disproportionate gains largely among groups where it has traditionally lacked support.

Contrary to claims that the party would find it difficult to maintain its cross-caste Hindu coalition due to brewing social friction and inherent contradictions, the BJP managed to increase support among most social groups. The party successfully overcame resentment among Dalits over various issues like the amendments to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act and local incidence of inter-caste violence. Support among Dalits for the BJP deepened further in this election: more than one-third (34%) Dalits voted for the BJP in 2019 as compared to around one-fourth (24%) in 2014. A similar change also occurred among the upper OBCs. Traditionally, the BJP has received higher support among lower other backward class (OBC). The difference in support for the BJP between lower and upper OBCs decreased from 12 percentage points in 2014 to 7 percentage points in this election. This was primarily due to a relatively higher increase in support for the party among upper OBCs. The only social group among which the BJP failed to make gains were Muslims: the party’s vote share among Muslims remained almost the same at 8%.

Troubles in the rural economy, such as stagnating farm prices and wages, had led to concerns about disenchantment with the BJP in the hinterland. But in this election, there has been a sharp increase in the BJP’s vote share in rural constituencies of 7.3 percentage points. This has meant a weakening of the urban-rural divide in support for the BJP. The difference between the party’s vote share in urban and rural constituencies reduced from 8.9 percentage points in 2014 to merely 3.5 percentage points in 2019.

The bedrock of the BJP’s electoral dominance in the last few years is high support among economically weaker sections of the electorate. While 2014 witnessed a surge in support for the BJP among the poor and lower economic strata, this election saw further bridging of the class divide. The BJP had almost an equivalent vote share among the poor, lower, and middle-class voters in this election. Among the upper middle class and rich voters though, support for the BJP (44%) still remains much higher.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the youth (voters aged 18-25 years) had voted decisively in favour of the BJP. The party’s vote share among young voters (34%) was 3 percentage points higher as compared to its overall vote share. Even in this election, the party had higher support among the youth - 41%. In terms of gender, status quo seemed to prevail as the BJP failed to close the gender gap. The party’s vote share among men (39%) continues to remain marginally higher as compared to women (36%).

The 2019 verdict leaves an interesting puzzle for students of Indian politics. What explains the BJP’s gains among sections of the electorate that expressed high discontentment on various policies and performance issues not too long ago? The result should force rethinking about how political parties overcome resentment and construct electoral majorities.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of CSDS, and Pranav Gupta is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, US.

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